Pictured Above: A marcher at a June 3 protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd outside the Southold Town Police headquarters in Peconic.

Southold Town kicked off the work of its Justice Review & Reform Task Force Monday just like many other major initiatives have been kicked off in the time of Covid — through a Zoom press conference.

The Task Force is the result of months of engagement between Southold Town and the North Fork Unity Action Committee, which, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, sent a letter signed by 90 community members to the Southold Town Board asking for a dialogue with the town police to ensure equitable treatment of all people who come in contact with law enforcement.

The formation of the Southold task force dovetailed with a June 12 executive order by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo requiring municipal law enforcement agencies to review policing practices with their communities “to promote community engagement, to foster trust, fairness, and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.”

Reports from these task forces must be turned in to the state by April 1, 2021.

“This task force is made up of a wide range of people — librarians, clergy, teachers, a Marine Captain, a former town justice, public officials and the chief of police,” said one of the task force’s leaders, Dr. Carolyn Peabody, at the Zoom press conference.

Mattituck legal aid attorney and coach Stephen Kiely, a co-chair of the task force, said he’d never worked with such a dedicated, passionate and nonpartisan group of people, who bring with them book smarts, emotional smarts and street smarts to the task.

“Robert Kennedy, when he was attorney general, said ‘every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves,” he said. “I believe every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he wants to make sure the work done by the committee “is thoughtful, thorough and conclusive,” and added that, in addition to the police department, the group will also be examining the town’s justice courts, public defenders and the district attorney’s relationship with the community.

“The police department is a very willing partner,” said Mr. Russell. “This is a collaborative effort. All residents should feel included in this process. We want to chart a path that ensures equity for everybody.”

“We remain open and receptive to the community we serve and live in year-round,” added Police Chief Martin Flatley.

Cutchogue resident Dr. Alison Byers, a clinical psychologist and executive coach, laid out the roles of three work groups.

The first work group, she said, is focusing on the various roles that police play in Southold Town, which of those roles can be allocated  to other professionals, and ensuring the police are utilizing the most effective and safe strategies.

The second work group is looking at civilian oversight of the police, “issues might be related to misconduct and accountability, and how the community feels about existing policies,” she said, and the third work group is focused on opportunities for training and continued education for the police, as well as protecting the mental health and wellness of police officers.

Rev. Natalie Wimberly of Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church in Greenport urged community members to “speak up and not be silent” as the task force seeks out community input in the upcoming weeks.

“We want you to speak about your experiences and encounters that you have had with the Southold Town Police Department, whether positive or negative or if you’re just not too sure,” she said. “We want you to share your experiences with us. Your stories are important. Your encounters are important and you are important and matter to us. Help our police department to be the best that it could possibly be, so it can continue to serve and protect you.”

The task force has created a website, www.southoldjusticetf.org, where community members can send in anonymous feedback, and will be holding three Zoom listening sessions in December — on Dec. 3 from 7 to 9 p.m., on Dec. 5 from 3 to 5 p.m. and on Dec. 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. Participants will be given instructions if they wish to remain anonymous in the Zoom listening sessions.

A survey is also available on the website, in both Spanish and English.

The task force is also accepting comment by telephone at 631.771.0828, at southoldjusticetf@gmail.com or by mail at P.O. Box 567, Mattituck, NY 11952.

The Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force is also inviting the community to its annual “Synergy: An Open & Respectful Conversation Between the Police Department and the Southold Town Community” via Zoom on Wednesday, Nov. 18 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. 

The Zoom meeting will be at https://zoom.us/j/5512639776?pwd=UC9jQmk5WG9LbWNUTlhtV0p3anJBQT09. The Meeting ID is 551 263 9776, the passcode is 594188 and the phone number to call in without a computer is 646.558.8656.

New York State’s resource guide for the reform effort, for citizens and public officials, is online here.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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